The plutonium plant's uncertain progress

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 Updated:

  • Step forward →
    January 1994:
    President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agree to limit and gradually reduce the U.S. and Russian stocks of military plutonium.
  • ← Step back
    1994-1996:
    The U.S. wants both sides to encase the plutonium in glass or ceramic and bury it. Russia insists on using its plutonium as nuclear reactor fuel and demands the U.S. do the same.
  • Step forward →
    January 1997:
    The U.S. and Russia compromise. Russia will turn its plutonium into reactor fuel, but not try to recover the plutonium left in spent fuel. The U.S. will turn some of its plutonium into fuel and bury the rest.
  • ← Step back
    March 1997:
    A Congressional Research Service report says that a U.S.-supported plutonium-based fuel program in Russia “may actually lead to increased quantities of separated plutonium in Russia.”
  • Step forward →
    Sept. 2000:
    Vice President Al Gore and Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov sign an agreement calling for disposal of 34 tons of plutonium by each country, under the 1997 terms. Russia says it will use some of its plutonium, however, in experimental breeder reactors that can create more plutonium than they burn. Russia says Washington and its allies should pick up the entire cost of the effort.
  • ← Step back
    January 2001-2005:
    The Bush White House halts work on the cheaper, burial option and reconsiders the 2000 agreement. Russia holds up construction of the fuel plants by resisting a grant of legal immunity for U.S. contractors.
  • ← Step back
    Feb. 2005:
    Russia’s atomic energy chief tells U.S. officials privately that Russia wants to dispose of its plutonium using breeder reactors, capable of making more plutonium than they burn. In response, some U.S. lawmakers balk at funding the program.
  • Step forward →
    August – Nov. 2007:
    South Carolina’s congressional delegation beats back the challenge to the fuel plant, and the Energy Department begins construction at Savannah River. S.C. U.S. and Russian officials hammer out a revised deal, which allows Russia to use plutonium fuel in new breeder reactors, but bars it from creating fresh plutonium while burning the fuel.
  • ← Step back
    June 2009:
    Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman fails at meetings in Moscow to seal the amended deal with Russia in time for a July U.S.-Russian summit.
  • Step forward →
    April 2010:
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sign an amended pact that mostly implements the 2007 deal. But the Obama administration allows Russia to make new plutonium right away from about a third of the MOX fuel burned in one of its breeders. The U.S. agrees to pay $400 million of Russia’s costs.
  • ← Step back
    April 2013:
    The Obama administration announces it will shift money out of the MOX project while it conducts a “strategic assessment” of its cost and alternatives.